When I came home from France, I expected to be a little bit bored; restless. Clinton, Missouri is small and quiet. You won’t find things like ethnic food, indie concerts, or gourmet coffee here. It’s an hour drive to the mall and to Trader Joe’s where we like to buy groceries. In any case, quite a switch from the heart of the second-biggest city in France.
But I will always look back on this summer, both parts of it, very fondly. Partly due to the beautifying power of a good camera, capturing as it did the colors and details I missed the first time around. It was, quite simply, special.
After being surrounded by a culture so foreign, the little traditions and ways of life at home felt luxurious. All that free space and nature. Days framed by cerulean blue skies and fat clouds, bright nights lit by fireflies and stars. Cricket chirps and coyote howls and owl hoots. Walking around barefoot and bathing suit-ed, plucking sun-warmed cherry tomatoes off the vine and eating them like candy. Lemonade with ice and novel after novel.
Much more than that stuff though, I felt so content just to be with my family. What’s invaluable to me: Dad’s perspectives. Mom’s advice. Spencer’s humor. The way all three of them make me laugh like nothing and no one else.
But this summer our family of four (plus various quirky mammals of the four-legged variety) had another member. Bastien is 16, French, and the brother of Camille. He stayed with us for a month and a half, wanting to see a bit of the country and work on his English. He wouldn’t smile for my pictures, but in my mind’s eye he only has an ornery grin.
He and I spoke largely in French which was all the better for inside jokes. We swam and played volleyball and tennis and endless games of Monopoly, which he always won. We rode around on the golf cart, which Bastien called his personal voiture. We shucked corn and went grocery shopping and once made carbonara, arguing over when to add the raw egg. We jumped on the trampoline and fought over who had to take out the trash. We watched Children of the Corn together, me cowering in terror; Bastien laughing. We had water fights; raw okra I-just-picked-this-but-I’m-going-to-throw-it-at-you fights.
I already know what it’s like to have a brother, how you sometimes want to give them a bear hug and other times would rather pour ice water on their head (ice bucket challenge or no). This felt a lot, a lot like that.
He became a part of our family, everyone teasing him like we do and him dishing it right back, you’d better believe it, especially at dinner when we were all together. That became my favorite time of the day. Never in front of the TV, always at the table, with wine and baguettes and some terrine one of the boys brought back from France. Mom would make things like tagliatelle or roast chicken or salmon, and the table was always crowded with side dishes straight from our garden.
Julia Child said that people who love to eat are always the best people, and I think she was right. From the French to my family, the people who I find most interesting eat with fervor. Maybe because there’s much more to a true meal than just stuffing your face.
Now I’m back at college again, doing the occasional reflecting on how good it was to be home, where people know you the best and love you the most.